No-one can predict with certainty whether the military takeover in Egypt will lead to a functional democracy, a military junta, or some other form of dictatorship. Yet, this working paper by Hein Goemans and Nikolay Marinov provides some grounds for optimism. They show that while coups had traditionally led to durable dictatorships, this picture has changed since 1990. Now, the vast majority of coups result in competitive elections rather than durable dictatorships. The authors attribute this to a change in the structure of the international system, including the development of an ‘electoral norm’. The paper is currently under revision but a version can be accessed here and the abstract is below.
In this paper, we use new data on coup d’etats and elections to uncover a striking change in what happens after the coup. Whereas the vast majority of successful coups before 1990 installed their leaders durably in power, between 1991 and 2001 the picture reverses, with the majority of coups leading to competitive elections in 5 years or less. We argue that with the end of the Cold War, outside pressure has produced a development we characterize as the “electoral norm” – a requirement that binds successful coup-entrepreneurs to hold reasonably prompt and competitive elections upon gaining power. Consistent with our explanation, we find that post-Cold War those countries that are most dependent on Western aid have been the first the embrace competitive elections after the coup. Our theory is also able to account for the pronounced decline in the non-constitutional seizure of executive power since the early 1990s. While the coup d’etat has been and still is the single most important factor leading to the down- fall of democratic government, our findings indicate that the new generation of coups have been considerably less nefarious for democracy than their historical predecessors.